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Good-bye overseas security blanket

Published: 11:23AM January 31st, 2013

It’s hard to believe we’re within two weeks of when “pitchers and catchers report” to spring training.

I’m one of those fans who makes the pilgrimage to Phoenix, Ariz., with my sons to escape the cold, coastal monsoons and to immerse myself in the sights, sounds and smells of baseball.

When we arrive next month, the Mariners will be undefeated and around the table at our favorite Peoria watering hole, we’ll all agree they have as good a shot as anyone at the American League Western Division championship this season, though the beloved M’s again brought up the rear last year.

Young players like Dustin Ackley and Danny Hultzen give us hope for Seattle’s future, but the truth is, we’re such an irretrievable bunch, we would go to watch the M’s if they finished 10 and 152 this season.

Part of the romance of baseball is that its season begins at a time of climatic transition and rebirth. Most PNW residents, however hardy, would gladly trade the mild, relentlessly wet local winters for the sun and 70s of Arizona. But it’s more than weather.

My own military history includes playing pick-up games in Egypt and coaching my kids in Munich and Vicenza, with legendary roasting and freezing experiences during spring practices.

But it wasn’t the coaching that set the baseball hook for me — it was simply being assigned in foreign lands in the 1980s when the sport was utterly unavailable in any climate. Before social networking, before email and Skype, Armed Forces Network broadcasted an occasional weekend game, but otherwise, except for box scores in Stars and Stripes, we heard and saw precious little of the MLB.

The relative few games led to fond overseas baseball memories of getting up in the middle of the night to watch live World Series broadcasts: the Royals being robbed of the 1985 “Show Me” series championship by a bad call I could see all the way from Germany; cursing AFN in 1989 when the network feed from San Francisco went black, only to find a major earthquake had stopped the series cold; and watching Joe Carter hit the walk-off home run in 1993, screaming at the insult to my childhood heroes, the Phillies, in a dark, empty embassy snack bar in Cairo.

When my family and I returned from back-to-back tours in Europe, my youngest son and I for the next two summers drove literally every weekend from Monterey, Calif., to either Oakland or San Francisco to get our fixes of the A’s and Giants.

Communication from overseas couldn’t be more different now. My oldest son lives in Japan and tells me he gets what amounts to a better version of my expensive baseball cable package on the Internet. He watches any MLB game he chooses, any time of the day or night — especially convenient given the 16-hour time difference.

Baseball and the trappings of our culture — once existing only over the edge of the world — are now a few taps away on the pads of mobile devices. The implications of the world information revolution are sorting out at light speed, but at the start of baseball season, it’s clear to me that we’ve gladly traded the romance of distance for real-time information.

Less absence will breed less appreciation. My generation’s longing for our lyrical national pastime while stationed overseas has now, in the information age, been rendered quietly irrelevant.